December 04, 2016

Pastor Mark F. Bartels

Old Testament Lesson; Isaiah 11:1-10

Epistle Lesson; Romans 15:4-13

Sermon Text; Matthew 3:1-12

We just sang this verse.

Welcome, oh my Savior, now.

Joyful Lord to you I bow.

Come into my heart, I pray.

Oh, prepare yourself a way.

That is what we are going to talk about in Advent. The word 'advent' means 'to come'. The Sundays in Advent, we talk about Jesus coming into our hearts, and preparing for Jesus' coming at His birth, and on Judgment Day.

Our text is from Matthew, chapter 3, verses 1 though 12. It is about John the Baptist, whose job was to prepare people's hearts for the coming of the Savior. This is in our Savior's name.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.'” Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

These are your words, Heavenly Father. Lead us in the way of truth. Your Word is truth.


For those of you who are listening to this on a CD that was delivered to your house, or for those of you who are listening to this on the internet, or reading it on our website, I need to describe where I am standing right now, because you cannot see it. We are in a gym. The gym is where we are currently worshiping.

In our gym, there are a bunch of bleachers. The people in the bleachers are facing me. In front of those bleachers are rows of chairs. The people in those rows of chairs are facing me, and I am facing them. Behind me there is an altar. Behind the altar there is a beautiful backdrop of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

I want you to keep that picture in mind, where I am standing right now, because I am going to change locations in this room, in a little bit. Those of you who are listening, or reading, (but not watching), will want to know what location I am in, because it will help you understand the job of John the Baptist.

       -In the very last chapter of The Old Testament,

       -the last book of The Old Testament, Malachi,

       -and the very last verse, of the last chapter, of the last book of The Old Testament, prophesied the coming of John the Baptist. He would come to prepare the way of the Lord.

Now, it is four hundred years later. There have been four hundred years of silence. No new books of the Bible have been written. And now, John the Baptist is at the banks of the Jordan River. He is there to carry out what The Old Testament said he would. That is to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.

John the Baptist is dressed like a prophet. He is dressed like Elijah, the prophet, in camel's hair. And, he is out in the wilderness. The Bible says,

“He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

The word 'crying' is actually the word 'thundering' in the wilderness.

'Prepare the way of the Lord.'

So, here is this voice, thundering out in the wilderness by the Jordan River. All of the people are starting to come, and hear this powerful preacher.

Given that, I am going to change locations in the room. I am going to walk down the center isle, and now I am going to get to the point where I am standing in front of the people who are in the bleachers. The people who are in the bleachers can see me. They are looking straight at me. And, I can see them.

The other people I am behind. They can't see me, unless they turn around, and look at me. Some of them are turning around. Others are turning around half of the way. Others aren't turning around, at all.

Here is the job of John the Baptist. The job of John the Baptist was to tell everybody, “You need to turn around, so that when Jesus comes, you will be looking at Him, and you will recognize exactly who He is.” The job of John the Baptist, the hardest job in the world, is to get hearts to turn around so they are ready for the coming of Jesus, our Savior.

(Now I am going to change positions in the room, again, because I don't want to talk behind anyone, for the whole sermon.)

Here is the job of John the Baptist. John the Baptist came, preaching a simple message. The simple message was,


for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

The word 'repent' simply means 'turn around'. It means 'a 180 degree turn around'. It means 'a change of mind', 'a complete change of mind'. That is what John the Baptist was preaching to everyone who was there. “Everyone, repent.”

Until you 'repent', your heart is not prepared for the coming of Jesus. The word 'repent' is such a foundational word in scripture. We use it all of the time, but today we are going to dive deep into, “What does it mean to repent?”

My question to each one of us is “Has your heart turned 180 degrees? With the change, are you ready to welcome the Savior at His birth, and the Savior on the day He comes back in judgment?”

What does the word 'repent' mean?


for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

When John said, “...the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, if there is a Kingdom, there is a King.

The King is Jesus.

He was just about there. He was almost on the banks of the Jordan, at that point. John was saying, “Turn around. Turn around! He is almost here.”

Here is what some people believe the word 'repent' means.

       -Some people believe the word 'repent' means, “I confess my sin. And then, I stop doing it.” Is that what it means to 'repent'? Is that 'the 180 degree turn around', that change of mind John was talking about, when he said,


for the Kingdom of God is at hand”?

Here is the problem with that type of repentance. If it means, “I admit I have done wrong, and I am going to stop doing it”, what about the wrong you did? You still have the guilt, and as long as the guilt is still there, there is still punishment waiting. All of the 'turning around' in the world, and trying to stop sinning, isn't going to take away the guilt, and the punishment you have already accumulated, because you have done the wrong thing. So, it is not just a matter of saying, “I have done wrong, and I am going to change my life”. In fact, none of us can change our life enough, that we could ever get rid of all of the wrath, and anger we deserve, because of our sins. So, it is not just a simple matter of saying, “I am sorry, and I am going to stop sinning”.
       -Some people believe repentance is sorrow over sin. “I know I have done the wrong thing.” It is confessing that. I confess to God I have done the wrong thing. And then, it is making satisfaction for those sins. In other words, it is saying, “God, I know I really blew it. I deserve your punishment and anger. If I say enough prayers, if I give enough offerings to the church, then God is going to forgive my sins. They will be gone. That trouble in my life will be gone. I will be free from my guilt.”

That is not what scripture teaches. You and I cannot make satisfaction for our sins. The Bible says we are not saved by our works, or by what we do.

So, what is repentance? What is this '180 degree turn' that the Bible is talking about, and John was talking about to the people, as he preached to them, when he said,


“Have a change of mind. Have a change of heart, a 180 degree change of heart, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
We discover from scripture repentance consists of three things.

       -Number one, repentance is sorrow over sin, and confessing that sin. “I know I have done the wrong thing, and I am sorry about it.”

People came to John at the Jordan, and what were they doing? They were confessing their sins. So, it is confession of sin.

       -Number two, true repentance consists of trusting Jesus forgives all of those sins.

What was John doing? He was preaching a repentance, and baptism for the remission, or the forgiveness of sins. Sins need to be forgiven. That is part of repentance. “I understand my sins are forgiven, for Christ's sake.”

       -Number three, repentance is a change of heart. Jesus told the Pharisees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

We are going to talk about that, step by step.

       -Number one, it is sorrow over sin and confessing that sin.

       -Number two, it is turning to Jesus, as the only solution for that sin.

       -Number three, along with that automatically what we call fruits of repentance, a change of heart.

If you were to ask the average person, “If you would want to change something in your life, what would it be? What needs to change?”
Do you know what type of answers you would get? Some people would say, “I would like to change my weight.” A lot of people say, “I would like to change my self confidence. I would like to be more confident about myself.” Other people would say, “I would like to change my productivity at work.”

Those are some of the major things people want to change in their lives. But, very seldom will you find somebody saying, “I want to change my relationship with God. There is a serious problem with my relationship with God.” Repentance is understanding “The primary thing I need to change is my relationship with God. There is a problem going on in my life, and it needs to change.”

When John was preaching to the Pharisees, the Pharisees didn't think they needed to change anything, when it came to their relationship with God. They thought they were living God-pleasing, godly, holy lives. They thought, “There is nothing we need to change.” They came to be baptized by John, but he told them,

“You brood of vipers!

Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

They didn't think they deserved God's wrath. So, they didn't think they needed to change anything. They thought, “We are children of Abraham. We are going to be saved, because we are Jewish.”

Now, do you think there is anything you need to change in your relationship with God? It is pretty easy for us to kind of lose sight of our spiritual relationship, and get caught up with the day to day things, like “I want to change my weight. I want to change my self confidence. I want to change my productivity at work.” But, those things don't change our relationship with God. Do you need to change your relationship with God? And, do you recognize that? It is not a matter of saying, “Well, yeah. I am a Lutheran. I go to a Lutheran Church. I dress up for church. I come to church, and I sing the hymns. Then, I go home.” That is not the type of change relationship the Lord is calling us to. The Lord is calling us to ask, “Is there something in my life, spiritually, that needs to change?” Do I admit, “I have sinned against God, and I deserve God's eternal punishment, because of what I have done.”?

I have talked to people who say, “I can't think of anything. I can't think of any sins I have committed, lately, that I need to repent of”. Can you? Can you?

I want to read something out of our Catechism. I love this little section of the Catechism, where Martin Luther talks about confession of sin. He wants you to look at your own life, and ask yourself, “What do I need to change in my life? What needs to change, spiritually, in my life?”

I am going to read this, and then I am going to have us think about it, a little bit. This is taken from the section called,

“The Office of the Keys and Confession”.

He asks,

“Which sins should we confess before God, or before another Christian?”
Here is what he says.

“Here consider your own situation according to the Ten Commandments whether you are a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, an employer, an employee, whether you have been disobedient, dishonest, lazy, whether you have injured anybody by word or deed, whether you have stolen, neglected, wasted anything, done any harm.”

I want you to think about what Luther is talking about there. Let's imagine, right now, God came walking into this room. He tapped you on the shoulder, and said, “I want you to come with me”.

You went in my office, and sat down. So, it is you, and God sitting in my office. God looks at you, and says, “Let's talk about the callings I have given you in life. I want to see how you are doing.”

Let's say He says, “I have called you to be a father. Let's talk about how you are doing at being a father.”

Or, He says “I have called you to be a husband. Let's talk about that. How are you doing being a husband?”

“I have called you to be a son, or a daughter. How are you doing at being a son, or a daughter?”

“I have called you to be an employee, or an employer. How are you doing at that?”

What if the Lord really started to 'peel away the layers of the onion' in our life? (I am going to just pick one.) Let's say He is sitting with you, and you are a husband, and He asks, “How are you doing at that? I expect you to love your wife like Christ loved the church.”

Do you put your wife's needs so important that you are sacrificing whatever it takes to meet her needs, the way Jesus did the church? What if God looks you in the eye, and asks you, “Are you doing that?”

And then, He says, “Let's talk about your wife's needs. Your wife's number one need is to get to Heaven. Are you sacrificing whatever it takes to make sure your wife gets to Heaven?”

You cannot make her go there, but are you sacrificing whatever it takes, and making sure you are the spiritual leader in the family? Do you make sure your family knows who Jesus is? Do you talk about Jesus? Do you make sure church is a priority in your life? Do you set the example on what it means to be a follower of Jesus, as He looks you straight in the eye and asks you, “Are you doing that?”

Then He says, “Let's talk about the physical care of your wife. She needs to be physically cared for. Are you doing that? Are you going to work, and getting a paycheck to the best of your abilities? When you come home, and there are all kinds of things that need to be done around the home, are you seeing to it that those things are all taken care of, and you are doing whatever you can to make sure all of those needs are taken care of?”

Let's talk about an atmosphere of affection, and her need to know she is loved by you. “Are you doing that?”

What happens when you get into a conflict, and God is looking you in the eye, and asks, “How do you treat your wife? Do you lose your temper? Do you get upset with her? Do you say things you should not say? Do you back away from trying to solve the problem? Do you speak the truth in love?”
I am going to tell you something. If God were to examine you in every calling He has called you to in life, it would not take you long to almost be cringing in front of Him, saying, “I have blown it. I have blown it. I am nowhere near the husband you called me to be.”

“I am nowhere near the son, or daughter you called me to be.”

“I am nowhere near the employee, or employer you called me to be.”

Repentance consists of:

       -Number one, of admitting, before God, “I need change. I need that guilt gone. I need the punishment I deserve gone. I need change in my life. And, I am sorry.”
       -Number two, repentance consists of understanding, “The only way the change I need can happen is through Christ. Only Jesus can change my guilt. I can't remove my own guilt. Only Jesus can remove my guilt.”

The Bible promises,

“The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

It has all been laid on Jesus. The Bible promises He changes something I can't change. And, that is, He changes my guilt, because He takes it as His own. That is why John the Baptist pointed to Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River, and he said,

“Behold, the Lamb of God

who takes away the sins of the world.”

There is the change our hearts need, to understand, “He bears my guilt. And because He bears my guilt, He can change the next thing. He can change the punishment I deserve for my sin. I can't change that. Only Jesus can change that.”

That is why Jesus came. Jesus came to be punished in my place. Jesus came to bear the entire wrath of God, against all of my sin. He did that, ultimately, when He went to the cross, and made complete payment for my sin. When Jesus declares to me that my sins are forgiven, they are forgiven, because He is the One who paid of them. Only Jesus, only Jesus can cause that change to happen in my heart, where my guilt is gone. It is gone! The punishment is gone, for Christ's sake.

       -Thirdly, having confessed our sin, and through the power of the Gospel, turned and trusted in Jesus as our Savior, a change happens. It is automatic. Our heart says, “I have been freed from the guilt. I have been freed from the punishment of sin. Jesus, thank

you. I want to be free from the power of sin. I don't want to do the wrong thing, anymore. I don't want to walk the wrong direction, anymore. I want to walk in a different direction. Jesus, I want to walk the way you want me to walk. Not because that saves me. You saved me. But, you have changed my heart. I want to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. I want to be the kind of husband you called me to be. I want to love my wife like Christ loved the church. I want to take care of her needs. I want to sacrifice whatever it takes to do that. I want to speak the truth in love.”

(We could go on and on, throughout all of the different callings in life, that God has given to each one of us.)

Today, John the Baptist calls you,


repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Repentance is a change of heart that says, “Jesus I am sorry for my sins.”

As you come up to The Lord's Supper, it is coming up there, and saying, “Jesus, I am sorry for the guilt I have, and the punishment I should have, because of my sin. But Jesus,” (repentance also then is saying), “Jesus, I trust you have taken away that guilt. You have taken my punishment. And, I trust when you tell me my sins are forgiven, they are gone. Gone!”

And then a change has happened. “Jesus, having heard that, you have changed my life. Enable me to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

The daily life of a Christian is a life of daily repentance. Daily. I will never be perfect on this side of eternity. Never.

Daily, we repent of our sin. “I am sorry, Jesus.”

We turn to Jesus. “Jesus I know you forgive me.”

Then, with the help of God, we commit daily, “Help me bear fruit, in keeping with repentance”.